Out of the wings …

Guitarist Tommy Tedesco

Guitarist Tommy Tedesco

LIKE MANY, I had been long waiting for a look at filmmaker Denny Tedesco’s documentary about the L.A.’s famed group of session musicians, The Wrecking Crew.

Earlier this week, I got a chance to speak with Tedesco, son of session guitarist Tommy Tedesco, about his 19 years behind-the-scene efforts to finish the film and secure the music clearances. I wish I had had unlimited space because Tedesco can spin and loft an anecdote like his father. And there were many.

Like any company town, L.A. had it’s own factories. Evidence of work was everywhere. But instead of smoke stacks churning out soot, Los Angeles’s airwaves were full of the fruit of their labor — music.

“They were in a factory town and they were pumping out music and it was fast,” Tedesco says, “But some factories make Rolls Royces while others make Pintos.”

While the decades-long gig kept him close to home, Denny’s father lived a life on the road — L.A. surface streets, freeways and canyon passes. Paging through his father’s old work books were enlightening. Though Denny says he felt his father was around much of the time, it was, he now realizes, an impression of presence, looking back at all the dates, pages and pages of 10, 13, 15 hour days. “My Dad kept his guitars in the car. Always. We had four phone lines at home. And he had an answering service. This was 1968! There was no way someone was going to get a busy signal. The first thing he’d ask when he hit the door: ‘Any calls?'”

It was all about staying a float. 

My piece goes up tomorrow — I will post it then — but until then here’s the film’s trailer:

Touchstones and Keepsakes: Chinatown’s New Orleans in L.A.

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A FEW months back, I’d heard word about a spot opening up in Chinatown that was going to bring a little bit of New Orleans to L.A. It got my hopes up, but I also knew to be sure to be a bit measured with my expectations. We’ve been disappointed before. Frankly New Orleans is difficult to get right — the accent as well as the food.

Slipping into Little Jewel back in August, I saw from the start that this was going to be different. Strikingly so. Since then,
I’ve been following the evolution of this market/deli and rendezvous for the last six months.

For many transplanted New Orleanians it’s already become a freeway-close home away from home.

You can click here to find my piece about Chinatown’s Little Jewel of New Orleans.

Executive Chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger greets customers at The Little Jewel of New Orleans -- photo by Lynell George

Executive Chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger greets customers at The Little Jewel of New Orleans — photo by Lynell George

David Carr, 58

“Shakespeare describes memory as the warden of the brain, but it is also its courtesan. We all remember the parts of the past that allow us to meet the future. The prototypes of the lie — white, grievous, practical–make themselves known when memory is called to answer. Memory usually answers back with bullshit. Everyone likes a good story, especially the one who is telling it, and the historical facts are generally sullied in the process. All men mean well, and clearly most people who set out to tell the truth do not lie on purpose. How is it, then, that every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?”

— David Carr
from “The Night of the Gun”

Woke up and it was still true…Heartbreaking.
NYT obit here.

On Broadway

ITS BEEN a year  (or more) since I began stepping up my return visits to the Grand Central Market because I know it will be a very different place sooner rather than later.

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I’ve taken quick walk-throughs some days. On others I’ll sit with one friend or another for a leisurely visit and watch the old and new cross and merge — customers, produce, menus and conversations — all of it on display. So many different Los Angeleses on display among the dried chilies and the fresh corn. I miss the old butcher and the curious arrangements of meats (heads and hooves) — but then I think, maybe he’s not gone — not just yet — only around a corner I haven’t turned yet. But then I am distracted by some new site or stand — the deli, the cheese shop, the new butcher. As I walk around now, I am having trouble even remembering what I remember.

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The original six-story building on Broadway was designed in 1896 by architect John B. Parkinson (whose firm served as architects for other L.A.-signature structures such as City Hall, Bullock’s Wilshire and the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal — Union Station). Built by Homer Laughlin an Ohio-based businessman. the building’s first ground-floor tenant was he Ville de Paris Department store, but in 1917 the space was remained as a public market that has been shape-shifting to serve the population of downtown ever since.

 

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Up until the 60s, the market served both downtown businesses as well as the residential communities above along Bunker Hill.  Now that Broadway and many surrounding downtown boulevards and adjacent neighborhoods are repopulating with loft and condo-dwellers, just who downtown residents are — as well as what their needs might be — have become much more complex subject of discussion.

Change always seems sudden here in L.A., even if it isn’t really. It might have to do with the way we navigate the city. If you uproot from an old neighborhood or a job the familiar haunts slide away to make room for others. Time shifts and it “seems like yesterday.” But it more time has passed than we think.

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I took a writer friend who, though she passed the Laughlin building weekly, hadn’t stuck her head inside the Market for some time. In her head it was the same as it always had been: The fruit signs, the neon, the dry goods, the heads and hooves on ice.  But after just a few steps inside she saw not what was there but what wasn’t: the old map of her childhood visits, the vendors she had relationships with (whom she asked after by first name.)

Her reaction was instant and deep. The raw emotion — the upset — surprised even her.  At first glimpse, It felt like another impending erasure.  Full and total. And it wouldn’t be the first time.

The hope for these visits, I realized,  is to be able to slow time down a bit so I can absorb and document change in motion.

I too have been bowled over by complete re-imaginings of locations I have considered to be anchors of periods of my life here, backdrops that I thought would be ever-present like the mountains in the distance behind the skyline.

But I know better now.

 

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Gateways

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AS LONG as I can remember, I have been obsessed trains. Not just the grand locomotives and passenger cars, but the stories that fill and surround them, the symphony of comings and goings that comprise the story of railstations

Growing up,  I connected the trip across town to Union Station with the much-anticipated visits from my New Orleans grandfather. Although he’s now been gone more years I had with him,  I still do; I still hope to be the first to spot him in his stingy-brim straw fedora  and his crisp summer blazer, keeping his own rhythm. Union Station — the “Last Great Station” was his daughter’s —  my mother — gateway into Los Angeles as well; it was her first glimpse of the “pretty city.” These stories still swirl around inside me, feel very present so many decades gone.

Next month marks the 75th anniversary of Union Station and to commemorate  there are a couple of new books  about the station and an exhibit at downtown’s Central Library that opens next week. All of it serves to celebrate this auspicious milestone, and so I know that this means similar there-to-here narratives still swirl around within many other Angelenos, as well.

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Yesterday on my way to a meeting, I passed through the terminal and found myself lingering — dithering, really —   taking in all the busy rehab and refurbishing progressing  around me. I’m still sad about the now roped-off leather chairs  that edge the concourse.  An intricate web of scaffolding  laced across the grand entrance windows. Crews in hard hats and emergency-hued-neon vests spidered up ladders. There are both subtle and dramatic signage changes you’ll encounter; new destination and arrival boards and even the ceiling has been given a big scrubbing so you can glimpse the beautiful tile and wood. As happy as I was to see so much effort put into beautifying the building (readying it for its birthday close-up) — it’s hard to watch the change from the past to the future. I don’t want all of the those stories, conversations, memories to be stripped away.

As I made my way from across the concourse to meet my ride, a lone traveler stopped me. She didn’t have a question,  she wasn’t lost, I quickly discerned. She just wanted to chat. She was from the South — Arkansas — and was staying with her daughter and son-in-law, she told me. Her story circled around: She’d been in L.A. for three days and in that time had criss-crossed the region, “pretty remarkably,” I had to tell her, for such a short stay. “I’m leaving tomorrow. I don’t want to wear out my welcome. I want to be invited back. Longer next time.” Before I knew it, I was being introduced to the daughter and the son-in-law. It was like something out of not just another place or another time — but another lost impulse.

What made her stop me? I don’t know. She said it was “something about my face.” But the reassuring message I took away from our intersecting was that despite upgrades, the elbow-grease that was rapidly sloughing off  generations of dust and more, was that there was something about the spirit of that place — of train stations — that still encourages old-fashioned encounters — conversations and stories  that don’t have goals but rather are gateways to something else — a need to make all manner of connections.

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